Anarchy at the Opera

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

If anyone is unsure of the interconnectedness of our modern world, the cast-list for this showcase of the talent currently being developed by the National Opera Studio, at the end of a week-long residency at Scottish Opera in Glasgow, would remove doubt. After all that has happened elsewhere during that week, the three sopranos performing in the eleven-strong vocal company hailed from Ukraine, Russia and Latvia.

It was not, in fact, necessary to dig deeply into the company biographies to see interconnectedness eloquently demonstrated. The sequence of music from nine different composers with substantial excerpts from half a dozen operas was not dissimilar in structure to Scottish Opera’s Opera Highlights packages, but with the orchestra, conducted by Head of Music Derek Clark, in the pit and nearly three times the number of voices, it was working at another level. The brilliance of director Emma Jenkins was to link the works with quite exceptional narrative and theatrical skill.

Her title referenced the Theatre of the Absurd, but in fact there was little anarchic or illogical about the package, with subjects like coupledom and marriage, dream-worlds, fairytales and the moon, popping up emblematically throughout the libretti. It was nigh impossible to avoid emitting an audible sigh of recognition when another echo of a previous aria appeared.

Korean baritone Josef Ahn was the master of ceremonies for the show, which was staged on Tom Piper’s set for the current production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and included two extracts from Britten’s work, with counter-tenor Logan Lopez Gonzalez a sinister Oberon with a hint of Joel Gray in Cabaret. He came to that role via Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, as Yum-Yum singing The Moon and I, being fluffed-up by the half-dozen sopranos and mezzos.

The most dynamic of the latter group was Shakira Tsindos, who followed that with a strutting Alcina, with Joanna Harries as Ruggiero and Sian Griffiths as Bradamante. Lancashire tenor Philip Clieve may have played a supporting role throughout – to Laura Lolita Peresivana in Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tiresias, to Alexandra Chernenko in Martinu’s Julietta, and to Inna Husieva in Strauss’s Gypsy Baron – but he did so with commitment, style and a fine voice. Tenor Monwabisi Lindi and baritone Kamohelo Tsotesi, both from South Africa, completed the line-up and it would have been good to hear more of the full tones of the latter, beyond chorus duties.

This was always an ensemble performance however, from the choral Shostakovich “A Ride Around Moscow”, which bore a surprisingly resemblance to G&S, via the entire company’s collective role as Puck “putting a girdle about the earth in 40 minutes”, to the conga-like steam train out of Pompeii at the end of Offenbach’s King Carrot.

So, yes, there was surreality a-plenty, even if reality was never that far away. What was undeniable was the sheer infectious joy this international company brought to their ingenious performance.

Keith Bruce